Last edited 27 Nov 2020

Ted Happold

This text is an extract from Patterns 12, published in July 1997 to commemorate the life of Ted Happold. Patterns was an occasional, in-house technical journal published by Buro Happold between 1987 and 2011.

Edmund Happold was born in Leeds on 8 November 1930, son of Frank Happold, Professor of Biochemistry at Leeds University and Margaret Happold, who was a housing economist and whose most important influence was in the area of public housing. Both his parents were active in the Religious Society of Friends and the Labour Party in Leeds.

He was Educated at Leeds Grammar School and Bootham School in York. Initially he studied at Leeds University.

As a Quaker, Ted was a conscientious objector and spent his national service working on the land for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, ending up on the construction of large moveable greenhouses. This sparked in him an emerging interest in construction and led to his joining Sir Robert McAlpine and Son as a junior site engineer. He then returned to Leeds to read Civil and Building Engineering.

At Leeds he came across Sir Basil Spence on whose suggestion first he went to work for a short while in Alvar Aalto’s office in Helsinki and then, in 1957, joined the innovative engineering practice of Ove Arup & Partners.

At Arups, he was surrounded and inspired by projects remarkable for both their engineering and architecture. Ted gained valuable experience as a young engineer working on the cables for stabilising the massive glass screen at Coventry Cathedral.

From 1956-61 he spent a short period away from Arups working for Severud, Elsted & Krueger in New York, mainly on concrete residential buildings. While there, he first encountered the tension structures in the pioneering cable roofs that Severud had worked on – the Raleigh Arena with Nowicki, and Yale ice hockey rink and Dulles airport with Saarinen.

Back at Arups, he worked on more buildings by Sir Basil Spence and on his first building with Trevor Dannatt and with the London Borough of Lambeth.

In 1968 the internal structure at Arups was reorganised. Povl Ahm was responsible for the group that came to be known as ‘Structures 3’ and Ted Happold became its executive Partner with Michael Barclay as Associate responsible for Project Management, and Peter Rice Associate responsible for Analysis. Under Ted’s leadership this division gained a reputation for producing unusual and imaginative structures, including many in collaboration with Frei Otto. Perhaps the most remarkable building to come out of this group was Beaubourg in Paris – it subsequently became the Pompidou Centre, after that president’s death. It was largely Ted’s initiative, enterprise and energy that turned the project from a competition winning scheme into a real building.

Despite its reputation for innovation, Structures 3 continued to produce a large number of more conventional buildings, including several projects with Sir Basil Spence and Trevor Dannatt and more than thirty with Lambeth.

Ted’s enthusiasm for competitions provided Structures 3 with the opportunity to work on a great many unusual and innovative structures. Beaubourg was one, another was a proposal by Bill McQuitty to provide an underwater viewing platform for the statutes at Abu Simbel in Egypt that were to be immersed beneath the waters of the Aswan Dam.

The collaboration between Ted and Frei Otto was particularly stimulating and fruitful and, in 1973, Arups and Otto formed the Lightweight Structures Research Laboratory as a focus for this work. Two results of this collaboration were schemes for a canopy at the Smithsonian Museum and, with Kenzo Tange, for a sports stadium in Kuwait.

In 1976 Ted accepted the chair of Building Engineering at the University of Bath and, in the same year, left Arups and set up a new practice, Buro Happold (the choice of ‘Buro’ came out of Ted’s work in Germany, especially with Buro Rolf Gutbrod).

The practice has undertaken an enormous range of projects, not only in Britain, but Germany, the Far East, the USA and, especially in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It has worked with eminent architects including Richard Rogers, Richard Burton (of ABK) and Ted Cullinan – who became close personal friends. A great many projects on which the practice has worked have gained awards.

At the University of Bath Ted evolved a unique educational system in which architectural and engineering students share a core of the undergraduate studies. He also formed the Wolfson Group researching into air-supported structures and was the driving force that led, in 1990, to the establishment of the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology which has become Britain’s foremost institute in this field.

Apart from his work in the practice and at the University, Ted was tireless in his other activities. He chaired the committee in the Institution of Structural Engineers that produced the Appraisal of Existing Structures in 1980 and was a member of the Poppelwell inquiry into the fire at Bradford Football Stadium. Following this he formed the Institution of Structural Engineers’ working party on the Appraisal of Sports Grounds. It was after his year as president of the Institution of Structural Engineers that he had the vision to conceive, and the will to bring about, the Construction Industry Council, which he chaired from 1988 to 1991. He sat on both the Property Services Agency Advisory Board (1981-86) and the Building Regulations Advisory Board (1988-96).

Ted Happold died in 1996.

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